I really wanted to fall in love. I tried to make the relationship work. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to break up.
Like every great relationship, it started with a mutual friend. Arthur Doyle had great taste in people, so I immediately trusted him. At first, I was surprised by how many things we had in common. Initially, we shared a willingness to test gender boundaries, a mutual appreciation for the truth and a commitment to friendship. But slowly, things started falling apart.
Will you forgive me if I let the dating analogy go from here? Thanks.
CBS’s Elementary had so much going for it when the show premiered in late 2012. Doyle’s Holmes frequently fooled around with hallucinogenics, so their take on Holmes as a recovering addict seemed like a sensible extension. Reinventing Watson as a woman drew a lot of skepticism before the show aired, but Lucy Liu quickly wowed and shushed critics. The producers also did a commendable job of restraining themselves and only slowly brought extended characters into the storylines. To date, we still don’t know the who, what or why of Moriarty, but we are getting more details by the episode on Irene Adler. This approach has kept me locked in despite my biggest complaint about the show: the writing.
When you get down to it, the story-lines for Elementary are basically CSI: Sherlock Holmes in New York. I would say CSI: Baker Street, but with the move to NYC, you lose even that cache.
Here’s how an Elementary script basically breaks down:
INT. HOLMES LIBRARY - DAY
HOLMES IS READING IN THE LIBRARY. WATSON IS MAKING A SMOOTHIE IN THE KITCHEN.
Are you leaving me yet, Watson?
WATSON: (FROM KITCHEN)
Oh, Holmes, I’ve told you we still have more work to do. You haven’t opened up to me enough.
WATSON OFFERS HOLMES A SHAKE, BUT HE IGNORES HER BECAUSE CAPTAIN GREGSON IS CALLING.
Hello, Gregson. There’s been a murder. Ok. See you there.
CUT TO: EXT. MURDER SCENE - DAY
GREGSON GREETS HOLMES AND WATSON WITH A BRIEFING IN HIS HAND.
We have a murder on our hands. Pretty straight forward, except for this belt, which is identical to a belt retrieved at a murder scene yesterday.
That’s because it is the same. This isn’t just any old murder, Gregson.
This formula can be applied to all of the season 1 episodes so far and it’s truly disappointing. Despite this, (or perhaps due to this) Elementary is one of the most watched new shows of the year. I sincerely hope audiences are watching not because they wanted another CSI remake, but rather because they see potential here.
I assure you this isn’t bitter grapes over BBC vs. CBS, either. Elementary isn’t Sherlock and that’s for the best. CBS has tried to create a modern day Holmes that isn’t derivative of the British Series, while bringing an American perspective to it. I appreciate the idea. They were smart to see the success of the British series and wonder how to make that concept work in the US of A. However, the fact that they have basically shunned all the original stories in favor of crime stories is a real shame. Utilizing the genius of Doyle allows you to adapt his mysteries or pull the best nuggets from canon, while still acknowledging that forensics and the brilliance of modern science would have made Holmes more powerful than ever.
EDIT: A reader has written pointing out that the show is a basic crime procedural and a good one at that. I agree, it’s a procedural and they’re working that format to the best of their ability. The problem with the format is you always know who did it the second the guest cast appears on screen, which seems entirely un-Sherlockian. Just look around: who is the most famous person here? As a viewer who is trying desperately to be a fan of the show, I wish they would push that mold a bit if they are going to stick with it.
For me, it became clear that the show was jumping the shark last week. SPOILER ALERT. I was truly disappointed to see Holmes depicted as a simple-minded, violent person. While he knows how to handle a weapon and he certainly has a good understanding of anatomy, the Holmes I know would never choose physical revenge over the promise of justice. In virtually every story my mind can recall, violence was always used as a means to bring about justice, not a form of it.
Despite all this, there is still plenty of room to make this series really shine. Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller have great chemistry and bring a natural warmth to their roles. In fact, they are the best part.
If CBS takes a step back and reassess, they may have time to solve this mystery.